Public television producers are hoping that a new spinoff of the animated "Arthur" children's series will help young viewers understand a little more about diverse cultures.
In "Postcards From Buster," Arthur the aardvark's best buddy Buster, a long-eared cartoon rabbit, hits the road with his video camera to provide live-action narrative for his friends back home. The show is produced by WGBH-TV and Cookie Jar Entertainment Inc. in association with Marc Brown Studios.
The idea for the show, which airs at 11 a.m. today on Channel 44 and at 5:30 p.m. on Channel 2, came after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"We realized there was a need to help kids understand the cultures around them," said executive producer Pierre Valette.
So they put Buster and his pilot father to work as cartoon ambassadors.
"He's very curious, he's the underdog," Valette said of the soft-spoken Buster. "We felt that was really important in a time when we're trying to encourage understanding."
Buster and his dad ferry a fictional Latin rock band on a concert tour with stops across North America.
"Buster's travels are a springboard to understanding different cultures," said Natatcha Estebanez, the series producer.
"No mere tourist, Buster is instead on a mission to find out about the societies, customs, and traditions he encounters, escorting viewers on an exploration of cultural diversity," Estebanez said.
The series is aimed at 4-to-8-year-olds. The show's creators also mix language lessons with Buster's busy doings. Communication pointers pop up subtly in the form of music or dialogue, demonstrating skills such as greeting a friend or asking for directions.
Arthur's creator, Marc Brown, also has written a "Postcards From Buster" book series, and there is an accompanying website.
In the first show, Buster visits Chicago, where he makes friends with a girl of Pakistani and Filipino heritage and goes to watch her pray at a mosque. He asks her why boys and girls pray on different sides of the room and why she wears a white scarf wrapped around her head.
Other stops include: an Indiana farm; San Antonio; Mount Hood and Canby, Ore., and Madison, Wis.
"I think one of the biggest problems we have in this country is that people don't understand or accept differences in other people, and I think anything we can do to make people aware of differences in a respectful way is wonderful," said Garland Waller, a communications professor at Boston University.